Re: Pamunkey Indians of VA
I thought your letter was very interesting, and I agree with your contention that people should be more careful about documentation.However, I think you may be wrong about Nisketti and Opecancanough.Most of the Indian tribes of N. America were matrilineal, but since Opecancanough was Nisketti's PATERNAL uncle, they would have considered themselves members of different clans and hardly related at all.
As for your claim that the uncle-neice marriage was only propaganda put out by whites "to make the Indians more 'savage' than they really were", I think THAT charge needs some substantiation. Why not claim the whole tribe were cannibals or practiced child sacrifice if that were the goal?Just to say that one Indian couple was an uncle-neice marriage is not very powerful propaganda.
And you say that Opecancanough "would know better" than to marry his neice. Do you mean he would know it was biologically bad?--the top scientists in Europe didn't know that until Mendel's theory of recessive genes was published early in the 1900s.And the only other rules against incest were religious ones, and these varied from people to people.The Hapsburg rulers of Spain and Austria at the very time of Opecancanough were marrying their neices (with Papal dispensations) and no one thought them savage.Moreover, in Jewish tradition, the marriage of a man to his neice was considered particularly auspicious--in the USA, the only state you can marry a neice is in Rhode Island, but ONLY if you are Orthodox Jewish.Early Christian historians like Eusebius (circa 325 AD) even claimed that the parents of Jesus were uncle and neice--which is why Joseph is always shown as gray and bearded in Renaissance art while Mary is shown as a teenager. Eusebius did not mean this as any kind of insult.
Therefore, if some early records said that Nisketti married her uncle, I am inclined to believe it.It is just the sort of odd fact that the early colonists would find interesting.
As for your contention that Powhatan was not a Pamunkey, I am not so sure.Certainly a later Queen of Pamunkey claimed to be his granddaughter.She was succeeded by her neice "Queen Betty" who was succeeded by her niece "Queen Anne". If this indicates some matrilinear passage of the right to rule, perhaps Opecancanough married Nisketti to rule as a sort of Prince Consort.